Force fed Foie gras – cubic zirconia?

*  Please read the whole article. By French law foie gras has to come from force fed birds which many view as unethical, but there is another way and it depicts being an ethical omnivore – ‘choice, great food and universal respect’.

My aim is to make choices based on fact, therefore I research everything before making a judgement. I wanted to understand the origins of foie gras and how it became such a controversial topic. Foie gras means ‘fat liver’ it occurs naturally in migrating birds building up their reserves before making their long flight. Our consumption of foie gras is recorded as far back as the Egyptians with stone carvings depicting geese and ducks being hand fed corn.

The process of ‘Gavage’ is the force feeding of geese  and ducks to create the engorged fatty liver that is known today as foie gras. The birds are often restricted in individual cages during this time. The use of the words ‘force feeding’ should tell you everything you need to know.

In reality the forced version is could be viewed as faux gras. It is a manmade version of a product that naturally occurs in migrating birds as they fuel up in preparation for their long flight. It is similar to De Beers selling cubic zirconia as diamonds? This seasonal delicacy that was once sourced from a migrating geese and ducks, has become a factory farmed all year round horror show. Part of the lunacy of this is that under french law foie gras can only be called foie gras if it comes from a bird that has been force fed – ‘sacré bleu!’ This law was introduced to prevent people passing any old fatty liver off as foie gras and keep the money rolling in.

So let’s look to Spain for some sanity in this crazy topic. A producer that is passionate about food, but also has the greatest respect for nature, Sousa & Labourdette produce a superior and traditional foie gras with no force feeding. Watch this short video clip it is very interesting and refreshing. Night and day from the torment and cruelty that force fed foie gras represents.

France produces 79% of foie gras, production is banned in the UK as it is in a lot of other countries. However the import and sale of foie gras is still legal in the UK and it is served in a lot of high end restaurants. It is an awkward moment when people in your party order foie gras. Let them know they are paying for diamonds and getting cubic zirconia. It is literally a fatty liver with very little relation to the original delicacy.

This article is about more than one product. Force fed Foie gras, battery hen eggs and milk veal have been present in ethical debate for decades, this is about the importance of questioning food production, being informed and making ethical choices about everything we consume.

Apologies if the image below is distressing (it is for the birds), it depicts a typical force fed foie gras farm and not dissimilar to any other factory farmed operation.



World vegan day – let’s explore

Today, 1st Nov is World vegan day, open any newspaper, turn on the radio or TV and odds on you’ll hear it mentioned. In fact it is Vegan month for the whole of November go a good time to learn more.

Veganism and the trend for reducing animal based products is on the rise, but it is nothing new. The vegan movement was started in 1944 and became a registered charity in 1979.

Being a vegan involves adopting a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs and honey – (basically any food that come from anything with a face). Veganism is considered extreme and even odd by many in our Western society, however in some cultures it is the mainstream diet and as a diet choice it is proven to give the most health benefits. The ultimate test of this being the number of top athletes that have switched their diets:

  • Heavy weight boxer David Haye
  • Tennis stars the Williams sisters
  • International rugby player Anthony Mullally
  • NBA players with John Salley (leading the charge as a long time vegan)
  • F1 champ Lewis Hamilton
  • US Ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek
  • Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin. The list goes on…

So what does this mean to an ethical omnivore and where do the paths cross? Being ethical in our consumption choices spans all diet choices including a vegan diet. Any shift towards adopting a plant based diet, be that 100%, 90%, 50% will give you positive payback in your health, well being and your impact in the world. The aim of ethical omnivore is to link the dietary worlds and give people choice.

It is very difficult to wake up one day and say ‘right I am giving up xyz’ you don’t have to swing from eating meat or fish everyday to becoming a fully fledged vegan overnight. Experimenting, learning to cook new dishes, deciding what you enjoy, researching into the real benefits and information behind the choices is what worked in making any dietary shift.

You don’t have to pick a sides, you can venture into the world of plant based one dish at a time. I have been blown away how much I enjoy the variety of food we now eat and dare I say there is a certain smugness knowing you’ve eaten 10 of your 5 a day.

If you feel like embracing World vegan day today is the day. I’ve posted lots of recipes under the heading FOOD / RECIPES /Plant based and Vegan. Try Spud’s shepherdless pie or Spaghetti Puy-ognese.

V to victory! – the ethical omnivore.

“Fancy some bamboo shoots for dinner darling?”

Is cheese suitable for vegetarians?

Is cheese suitable for vegetarians? I always thought it was and I’d assume most of us would say ‘yes’.

Cheese is a popular ingredient for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. In restaurants and shops vegetarian options often contain cheese. Therefore why are some cheeses labelled ‘suitable for vegetarians’ and some are not? I wanted to find the answer…Image result for vegetarian labeling uk

The truth is that lot of cheeses aren’t vegetarian. The majority of cheese contain Rennet. It is used to curdle the casein in milk to make cheese firm. Rennet is obtained from the fourth stomach of an unweaned calf, kid goat or lamb after slaughter. Rennet is complex set of enzymes that helps young mammals digest their mothers’ milk. Each species has specific enzymes see:

Related image


So what does this mean for vegetarians, Hindus or people that prefer not to eat stomach? The good news is that there is also non-animal derived rennet. These are either vegetable, microbial or fermentation produced chymosin that is widely used in modern industrial cheese making as it is cheaper than animal rennet.



Here is our guide to buying cheese. When buying cheese how do we know if a cheese contains animal-rennet or not? Check the label and ask the question. If it doesn’t state that is it suitable for vegetarians it can be difficult to determine if it does or doesn’t contain animal-rennet as it is often not listed in the ingredients, it is safer to assume it does.

The type of cheese should also be considered. Traditional European and Old-World style cheeses often use animal-rennet. For cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano that are D.O. (designation of origin) protected, cheese-makers have to use an exact method and exact ingredients in order to legally be called by that name.

Here is a list of cheese types that are always or often contain animal-rennet:

  • Parmigiano Reggiano / parmesan
  • Gruyere
  • Manchego
  • Emmental
  • Pecorino Romano
  • Gorgonzola
  • Grana Padano
  • Camembert
  • Brie

Image result for cheeseI did a quick review using the Waitrose website to determine the use of animal rennet giving the number of the total and percentage that are suitable for vegetarians by type:

  • Cheddar –  46 out of 64, 72%
  • Artisan (Waitrose 1) – 12 out of 42, 28%
  • Brie and Camembert – 3 of 13, 23%
  • Soft and cottage – 44 of 48, 91%
  • Blue Cheese – 6 of 23, 26%
  • Parmesan and pecorino – 1 of 16, 0.06%
  • Mozzarella and ricotta – 18 of 19, 95%

Where do the calves, kid goats and lambs come from? Due to the fact they have to be slaughter before they are weaned the animals that are used to create the animal rennet are very young. It might seem that this is a wasteful extravagance to slaughter very young animals just for part of their 4th stomach. The irony is there is a plentiful supply of very young animal for this purpose due to the dairy industry itself. To keep a plentiful supply of milk for humans to consume, mothers give birth on a constant cycle, the baby is taken from the mothers hours or days after birth. The babies are considered a by-product of the dairy industry, the females often raised as next generation dairy herd, the males raised for veal, spring lamb, or immediately slaughter. Whether considering cheese, milk, cream, butter or yogurt, this is the reality of dairy.

Parting thoughts. So what’s the big deal? It might seem that this is an article for vegetarians, maybe only ‘strict’ vegetarians that choose not to eat produce that contains dead animals, but this issue should raise wider questions for us all to consider.

  • We can all gain from learning what is in our food and not making assumptions.
  • We should consider the reality of the diary industry and the not so ‘white’ reputation that is portrayed.
  • Think about wider dietary topics; for example what is Casein and why is there a need for an enzyme to break down protein that is specific to each species?

Unexpectedly the main impact of researching this topic has made me realise that dairy is intended for babies and more over babies of another species. We are the only species that consumes dairy after we are weaned. Now I think about that it raises more questions about why we eat what we eat and whether it is right (watch this space – I’ve found some very interesting literature on lactose intolerance, type 1 diabetes, breast cancer and more).

Enjoy cheese as a treat knowing the chooses you are making. Health wise we often eat too much cheese so use this as an excuse to cut down or give it up. Check the labels for the Vegetarian logo. Source organic produce (as the highest ethical standards). Take care on the cheese front next time you are cooking for your veggie friends!

Say cheese! The Ethical Omnivore.


The diet battlefield

What are the different diets?

There is endless debate about diet. We divide ourselves into our separate groups, rarely seeing eye to eye. The debate is multi layered and warrants open debate. If we shared information, pooled the best of our knowledge and acted as a common group we would all be much better off.  That is the approach of the Ethical omnivore. Let’s talk about health issues, sourcing good produce, the dark side of the industry, how to soak beans to avoid flatulence, where protein really comes from and that we can live without dairy if we so choose.

Common diets overview:

Vegan – a diet and lifestyle that excludes consumption and using of all animal products (meat, diary, fish, eggs, honey, wool, leather etc). Focused on animal welfare issues.

Plant based – similar to Veganism but focused on health and inclusion of whole plant based foods.

Ethical omnivore – A plant based diet, focused on nutrition with the additional of quality animal products as you choose. (i.e. excludes all factory farmed produce).

Flexitarian – Also know as a flexible vegetarian. Adding occasional animal products.

Vegetarian – a diet that excludes meat and fish but does include diary and eggs.

Pescatarian – a diet that excludes meat but does include fish, dairy and eggs.

Reducetarian – a diet that aims to reduce the consumption of animal products.

Omnivore – a diet where anything goes, meat, fish, veg, dairy, eggs.

Carnivore – reserved for wolves, none of us are carnivores, we are herbivores and omnivores but never carnivores however much you think you like steak!






Buy British

If it can be grown or produced in the UK we should avoid buying imported versions. For example banana’s aren’t grown here, but apples are so look for UK origin apples. All animal products that we typically eat are farmed in the UK, however we import vast quantities.

Free markets and free trade have positive benefits, but where food production is concerns the negatives outweigh the benefits.

Food security – this is our ability to be self sufficient. Do you really want your pork to come from China, or your dairy to come from a 46,000 cow indoor farm in Saudi Arabia? The production costs might be cheaper, but that benefits the businesses in the food chain, not the consumer. The more imported food we buy the more risk we are stuck with it with little or no control over production standards, quality or price. Creating a threat to our national food security.

Level playing field – We are lucky in the UK as a lot of our agricultural policies, mean safer and better produce, but it often means we ask more of our farmers in the UK, through welfare acts, non GMO crops, reduced use of chemicals etc. they face tough challenges competing with producers from other countries. We can’t have it both ways and need to support our UK farmers.

Misleading labelling – watch out for products that appear to be British. It is used as a marketing technique. For example a ready meal sold as ‘British hotpot’, that is made using no ingredients from the UK. Or Strawberries advertised an ‘perfect British summer’ that are from Spain.

Lamb and mutton – Sheep are part of our farming heritage. Sheep suit our climate and landscape. UK lamb and mutton is available all year round, so buying it from the other side of the world, New Zealand is unnecessary. The same with beef from other continents, such as USA and South America.

Country of origin – Read the labels, the country of origin is listed. Be aware that ‘packed in’ doesn’t mean where a product originated. Some labels are misleading as it might be sold as British if it was finished or packed in UK. Apply common sense.

Source directly – supermarkets and will source produce from the cheapest, most available source. That doesn’t mean they pass the saving onto you, it means they can’t often can’t tell you which country they sourced the product from. For example it will have a list of countries or simply say ‘the EU’. Try to find direct sources of produce and independent retailers that are committed to local produce.

Support UK farming –  We need to support our farming industry to ensure it’s future.

Grass fed dairy – The UK still has a high level of outdoor grazing dairy, around 80%. Compare this with a lot of other European countries where intensive dairy, with zero grazing is in the majority. For example in Italy where approx 90% of all dairy is intensive. We have an amazing cheese industry but buy a lot of imported cheese. Over all we import dairy products worth £1.3bn more than we exported.

Miles travelled – obvious one, less carbon footprint.

Pork – our welfare standards for pork production are better than a lot of other countries. The use of farrowing crates, sow stalls, male castration, tail docking, straw bedding systems etc. This puts a strain on our UK pork farmers to compete on price, but the product is better and worth the difference.

Provenance – Know where it has came from. The UK has a reputation for higher standards, including review and audit of these standards.

Chemicals and preservation processes – To be able to move your food around the world it undergoes chemical and preservation processes to retain freshness, control ripening etc..

Seasonal – It is always said it far better to eat in season, buying British means you are leaning to a seasonal diet. Enjoy ‘out of season’ produce as a treat but think about what you are buying when.

Buy locally – Go one step further and buy as much local produce as you can.

Parting thoughts – Buying British (or your local country) represents the overall concept of Ethical omnivore. Whole food, grown and supplied to benefits us all, keeping control of our food supply and quality. It makes sense for so many reasons. Sadly it doesn’t mean that all UK produce is ethical, as we also have intensive farming in the UK. So buy British and buy ethical British.

The Ethical omnivore.